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Bush Seeks $41.3 Billion for Homeland Security Budget in 2004

Ridge unveils proposed increase in Miami during first public visit to employees since confirmation. Senator calls for stricter identification screening.

January 31, 2003|From Associated Press

MIAMI — President Bush will ask Congress to devote $41.3 billion to homeland security in the 2004 federal budget, said Tom Ridge, secretary of the new department.

That figure represents an increase over the $37.7 billion spent last year on homeland security across the government, including the military. Ridge announced the budget increase Thursday in Miami, where he paid his first public visit to department employees since his confirmation last week.

On Thursday alone, Ridge said, workers would deal with more than 1 million people crossing U.S. borders, process 2.4 million pieces of luggage at airports and inspect tons of imported food products -- not to mention handle thousands of visa and green-card applications.

"The sheer depth and breadth of this nation, the magnitude of what occurs here from sea to shining sea, means simply that one slip, one gap, one vengeful person can threaten the lives of our citizens at any time, in any number of ways," Ridge said. "We will organize to mobilize. It will lead to outcomes that better protect our country."

Under the president's proposal, the Department of Homeland Security alone would have a budget of $36.2 billion in the fiscal year that begins in October. That is just short of a 10% increase above the combined budgets of all the agencies being rolled into it. A good deal of the new spending is devoted to upgrading Coast Guard ships and aircraft, agency officials said.

Ridge described plans to combine border security and inspection agencies to streamline the entry process and increase the chance of catching terrorists and weapons at the border. People entering the United States would ideally meet with a single homeland security officer who would oversee all matters of customs, immigration and law enforcement, he said.

"Instead of four faces at the border, we'll have one," Ridge said. "The focus here is to help legitimate goods and people enter our country swiftly, and keep dangerous people and their weapons out."

Ridge toured the Port of Miami on a U.S. Customs Service boat, flanked by patrol craft from a half-dozen law-enforcement agencies. He also met privately with officials at Miami International Airport.

In Washington, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee called on federal agencies to set stricter policies for screening identification at U.S. borders. He released the findings of a General Accounting Office report that showed undercover investigators made it into the country from Canada, Mexico and Jamaica by land, sea and air, using fake IDs and carrying undeclared cash.

"The agents on the front lines obviously need to be a lot more vigilant," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "Bouncers at college bars could spot the kind of fake IDs that were used by investigators. The officials in charge of border security need to be at least that good at their jobs."

In response to Grassley's comments, Ridge said, "It obviously raises some legitimate issues."

Ridge's visit to Miami -- where 4,000 of the department's 170,000 employees work -- comes as the agency undertakes the largest government reorganization since the creation of the Department of Defense five decades ago.

Homeland Security will combine customs, immigration, the Border Patrol, and animal and plant health inspectors. Its work will be divided among two bureaus: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which will work at the border and ports of entry, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will handle investigation and enforcement.

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